Steeped in Resonance and Nuance
It’s the most architecturally satisfying aesthetically appetising crossroads in County Tyrone. To the northeast, a coffeeshop. To the southeast, a church. To the southwest, a school, To the northwest, a country house. All oozing rural charm. Welcome to Gortin. The ‘t’ is pronounced “ch”. The main approach to the crossroads could hardly be more dramatic. An inland corniche snakes through the purple heather topped Sperrin Mountains in a downward spiral (Gortin Lakes on one side, Gortin Forest on the other) before plummeting into the valley of the Owenkillew River to arrive at the crossroads. Time to go for a wee dander. If the crossroads is considered the western end and St Patrick’s Catholic Church accessed off Chapel Lane the eastern end, that means Gortin High Street is the princely length of 585 metres long.
The Auld Bank Coffeeshop is a single storey dropping to two storeys to the rear three bay building facing the high street. “Auld” meaning “old” is pronounced “owl”. Its rough cut stone and brick quoined exterior is more associated with east of the River Bann villages such as Hillsborough and Moira. Ulster Bank closed its branch in 2015 and the building owner, Blakiston Houston Estates Company, converted it into a coffeeshop. A very popular one at that, serving the best panini west of the Bann. The bank was built in 1845 with a gabled porch added in 1980. In true late 20th century style, the fanlight and sidelights surrounding the entrance door have a post modern feel to them. The interior has been opened up; simple ceiling mouldings provide an unpretentious backdrop to the café.
Alastair Rowan sums up St Patrick’s Church of Ireland, Parish of Lower Badoney, in his 1979 Buildings of North West Ulster (sponsored by Lord Dunleath’s Charitable Trust), “1856 by Joseph Welland, replaced the first Lower Badoney church of 1730. A standard stone built hall with short sanctuary, end porch, and bellcote. Short paired lancets, seven down each side, with quarry glass, and a nice braced truss roof inside, high and a little richer than usual.” A sprawling underdeveloped graveyard drapes a green apron around the entrance front.
Dr Rowan goes on to explain the church architect’s credentials, “The Church of Ireland had from 1843 one architect, Joseph Welland, who catered for all its needs. His qualifications were impeccable. Welland, a relative of the Bishop of Down, had trained in Dublin in the office of John Bowden, through whom in 1826 he obtained the appointment of architect to the Board of First Fruits in the Tuam Division. In 1839, when the Irish Ecclesiastical Commission replaced the old Board of First Fruits, Welland was appointed one of its four architects (although the older William Farrell seems to have retained responsibility for the North), and in 1843 on the reorganisation of the Commission he became the sole architect.”
Beltrim National School is a long single storey white rendered with slate roof building looking across the road to the cemetery. A juxtaposed case of early life meets everlasting life. To either extremity of the façade is an entrance (one for boys, one for girls) separated by six tall windows. Both entrance doors are painted farm shed red with a school name plus date plaque (1899). Completely symmetrical, the former school turned youth club portrays provincial architectural perfection. So contained, so uncontrived.
There’s nothing castellated about Beltrim Castle. Alright, remnants of an early 17th century bawn are integrated in the garden wall. Tyrone people call country houses “castles”. Locals refer to nearby Baronscourt (firmly in the country house category) as “the castle”. Alastair Rowan believes the current appearance of Beltrim Castle dates from the 1820s and notes its overhanging eaves. The house is incredibly attractive in an understated Ulster way. The five bay entrance front has a fanlight over its entrance door as big and grand as one on any Dublin townhouse. To the rear, Beltrim Castle’s return wing is nearly as long as Gortin High Street or at least a terrace lining it. The estate is privately owned by the Blakiston Houstons but the gardens are occasionally open to the public.